CHICAGO (AP) - When the Chicago White Sox started making moves this winter, Adam Eaton got more and more excited.
The center fielder finally got a chance to express his gratitude when he caught up with general manager Rick Hahn before the opening ceremony for the team’s annual fan convention.
“I thanked him. That was the first thing I did,” Eaton said Friday. “I said, ‘You know what? It instills confidence in the guys that were here prior.’ Going through the whole process, early winter into Christmas and then after Christmas, it was very exciting.”
There was very little excitement surrounding the White Sox after they finished fourth in the AL Central last year. Eaton provided a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup and Jose Abreu’s rookie season was a smashing success, but there were gaping holes in the bullpen, rotation and lineup that made it look as if Chicago was still years away from contention.
Then Hahn started filling those holes, and the mood changed.
He signed free agents Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche, adding a dependable left-hander for the bullpen and some lefty pop for the lineup. He traded for Jeff Samardzija with one year left on the right-hander’s contract, bolstering his rotation with the Merrillville, Indiana, native who grew up rooting for the White Sox.
Two more free-agent deals for closer David Robertson and outfielder Melky Cabrera, and the White Sox had turned into a legitimate threat to win the AL Central. Fans started snapping up tickets again after years of declining attendance at U.S. Cellular Field, and this weekend’s activities at a downtown hotel were sold out.
“I think, in all candor, we were a little bit surprised that we were able to convert on as many of our targets as we had targeted,” Hahn said.
The series of moves turned up the pressure on Robin Ventura, who is 221-265 heading into his fourth season as a big league manager. But the 47-year-old Ventura said he welcomes the change.
“If that’s what it is, that’s great. I’m not going to act any different or do anything different,” he said, “but people put expectations on us, that’s fun, that’s what we’re shooting for. You want to have that.”
Even with the big offseason, the White Sox head to spring training with a couple of lingering questions.
The starting job at second base is wide open, with prospects Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez in the mix along with veteran Emilio Bonifacio. The back end of the rotation and the catching depth behind Tyler Flowers also will be in focus when the team reports next month.
“We’ll see how that goes,” Ventura said. “Competition is good when you go to spring training.”
One of the open spots in the rotation could go to Carlos Rodon, a 6-foot-3 left-hander who was the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft. The 22-year-old Rodon, who had a 2.92 ERA in nine games over three minor league stops last season, threw a bullpen session for White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper on Friday.
Hahn said Rodon will begin camp as a starting pitcher, but that could change depending on the team’s needs.
“I’m here to just get better,” Rodon said. “I’m here to listen, and whatever they have in store for me, I mean obviously I’ve got to do what they say.”
One of the places where the White Sox are all set is first base after Abreu hit .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs last season, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Like the rest of the returning players, the Cuban slugger enjoyed the steady stream of offseason moves.
“I didn’t expect anything,” Abreu said through a translator. “But I always believed in the front office to do the job, and they did.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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